Steampunk Aether Ball


Go ahead and get your Blue Ball jokes out of the way right now.


Here’s a little something I threw together from scraps one day. It’s just a copper fitting soldered to a round copper disk with a coil of 6 gauge copper wire wrapped around it. A wooden base from the center of the Boiler Speakers front panel, a 1 watt UV LED, a Quartz ball, and VOILA!… a.. um… steampunk thing-a-ma-jiggy.

This is a cool little thing that you just plug in and sit on a shelf.. it glows with blacklight goodness, and that’s enough for me!

Solar Globe Garden Light


This was another of those ‘what if’ projects. Not sure if it falls into the steampunk art category, but I’m always looking for inspiration! I had picked up a dozen of these little solar panel/battery/LED assemblies from a surplus electronics store for cheap. They sat in a box in the closet for a year or so, then one day fumbling about in the shed I had an idea. I could build a bunch of little solar powered garden path lights!

I grabbed a handful of 3/4″ copper fittings and some pipe and went to town. I had a spare selenite globe lying about, and thought it would be perfect for the project as Selenite glows like fiber optics when backlit.

The solar panel and battery assembly is housed in a small box attached to the back of the thing. I built the box with some copper sheeting, and sealed the top with a sheet of acrylic held in place with some fish tank silicone.

I snipped the LEDs off of the circuit board and soldered a length of wire to each LED and re-connected them to the circuit board.

I ran the wires through the pipes and siliconed the 3 LEDs into the top L fitting above the globe, then soldered the joints between the top and bottom to hold the globe in place. I stuck it in the ground and waited for the sun to charge up the batteries!

When it got dark, the lights came on and the globe lit up! The LED’s are red-orange, so it wasn’t bright enough to provide any light onto the ground or anything, but it looked really cool. I envisioned building a bunch more of these to put around the yard, then realized my back yard was mostly in shade…. Crap. So I decided I would make a bunch of them that ran off low-voltage wiring.. a choice that brings some more options to the table. If I wasn’t relying on the solar cell / battery unit, I could use different color LED’s – perhaps white or blue.. maybe even ultra-violet.. really get some cool mood going!

After a couple of weeks of the globe light sitting in the back yard working flawlessly every night, I made a disconcerting discovery.. Selenite is water soluble! The rain was melting my globe away. It was rattling in its mount already, it would only be a matter of time before it shrunk so much that it fell out all together. Well.. lesson learned. Maybe a coat of lacquer on the globe could fix that problem, I have yet to do any experimenting on that front. But at any rate, it looks cool, and I’m not giving up on it..

This is where it all started – Oculus

I had no idea what Steampunk was

I had never even heard of steampunk and I wasn’t really sure when I started working on this piece what exactly I was trying to achieve… It really just kind of grew from one idea to another. I spent damned close to half a year on it, mostly I think because I didn’t know where to take it design-wise. In all honesty, looking at it now…. I can’t really call it pure steampunk, it’s more like steamgrunge. Maybe Dieselpunk. Dieselgrunge? Eh.. whatever.

It all started back in the fall of ’08, when my good friend Jeff (who’s a very talented artist in his own right), invited me to his studio one night shortly after I had been laid off from my job of 16 years as a graphic artist. We drank some wine and commiserated on the general sorry state of things, then we drank some more wine. Well OK, I was drinking all the wine… Jeff was drinking beer. But that’s neither here nor there.

He told me was interested in expanding his art into the cast-glass medium, and asked if I’d be interested in a collaboration. HELL YES I said. I’d been pretty down in the dumps since being let go from my job, and the thought of doing something with my hands really struck home with me. More likely than not, he was intentionally throwing some gas on the guttering flame of my artistic libido, but whatever his intent, I hold him responsible for everything that followed!

I left his studio that night with a renewed interest in life. I spent the next couple months researching glass casting techniques, kilns, etc.. we talked of designs, we made molds, poured wax castings, etc.. in preparation for the day we would acquire a kiln and really kick-start things. It just wasn’t to be however, the economy worsened even more during this time to the point we couldn’t justify blowing huge bank on a glass kiln.. neither one of us was feeling very financially secure, and the glass project went into a holding pattern.

That was fine with me though, because the creative fire was re-kindled, and somewhere along the way, I tripped up and landed face first on the idea to build something out of copper.

I had this sheet of copper…

And it had sat around collecting dust for a few months before I finally decided to try to make something out of it. I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted, but I had an idea of some kind of Jules-Verne looking boiler in my head, so off I went. I started with a cylinder. The size was dictated by a piece of left-over 4″ PVC sewer pipe I had in my shed. I did a little math and got the circumference of a 4″ circle, then cut a piece of copper to that length by the hight I wanted it. I then began working the sheet into the inside of the pipe until I got it all in, and clamped the sheet to the inside of the pipe with vice grips.

Unfortunately I had no idea this would ever wind up on a blog or even not wind up in the garbage, so I never took photos at this early stage. Damnit… never fails.

I busted out my handy brazing torch and took off. I soldered the overlap inside the tube and let it cool down, then pulled it from the PVC pipe. Cool! It didn’t look too shabby! After cutting out a couple of circles for the end caps and soldering them on to the ends of my copper tube, I hit the wall…. I was pretty excited that I’d managed to get this far without burning my shed down or seriously injuring myself, but what now?

The little copper can I had made sat on the corner of my desk for a couple of weeks before I decided to open up Maya and see if I couldn’t find some inspiration in the 3D modeling world. I spent a few days putzing about, drawing concepts and modeling them… and finally came up with the 3D model you see below.

This is about the time I discovered the actual steampunk world on the net. Woah, talk about inspiration. I had been searching ebay for brass gears, because I wanted a gear or two inside the glass lens on the front, and the floodgates opened up right into the pleasure centers of my brain.

That discovery started an avalanche. I couldn’t get enough. I spent many a loooong night on the net reading and taking in everything I could concerning steampunk. I was floored, amazed…. totally blown away. It was and still is like a drug to me, I just can’t get enough of it.

Along with the realization that there was already a huge community of people immersed in this world out there came a lot of artistic self-doubt. I was just building this thing on a lark, and now.. if I finished it and threw it out to the world, it would be judged next to all other creations in that genre. And there are MANY great pieces out there. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.. would people laugh at me? Would I suck at it?

Ultimately I made it through all of those dark days, and realized that I was doing this because I loved it, and even if I wasn’t a master at steampunk sculpture from day one, that a journey begins with just one step. So I picked up my torch and pliers and forged on.

Coming down the home stretch..

I wound up finding a huge 1/4″ thick sheet of copper at a local army surplus store and bought that sucker up for the base. I bought a metal blade for my radial arm saw, and discovered that with metal this thick, you made many, many passes lowering the blade each pass to cut it.. you do NOT try to just plow through it like you would with a piece of wood..

Also, I’ll tell you what, trying to solder pipes to a sheet of copper that thick takes a LONG time because copper is such a great thermal conductor.. you gotta get almost that whole sheet hot enough to solder to. Perservearnace paid off, and after about 20 minutes of blasting at it with the torch in my shed in the dead of summer…. the solder flowed. I think I lost a few pounds on that maneuver.

I exchanged the blue glass ball in the photo up there for a ball made of selenite crystal because selenite is a great transmitter of light. It’s like natures own fiber optic. A 3 watt LED light inside the base shines up through a blue dichroic filter into the globe, giving it a really cool blue glow. Light scattered about inside the base back-lights a gear soldered into a frame built behind the front lens.

I bought some liver of sulfer and used it with a wash to patina the outside. It turned completely black. I spent the better part of an entire afternoon with steel wool removing areas of the patina to give it an old and worn look. In hindsight, and as I have done with my subsequent projects, I’d not use the liver of sulfur at all, and just let the copper patina itself naturally. It looks so much better that way.

Also I sprayed this whole thing with clear lacquer, which I won’t do again. The lacquer destroys the effect of the metal, and it winds up looking plastic. Lesson learned.

I built a base from some old oak I had floating around in the shed, stained it with cherry stain, and used polyurethane on it – another thing I’m no longer doing with wood bases.. it makes them too fake looking.

The switch on the front is yet another thing I hate about it, it’s anachronistic to the design if that makes any sense.. it’s just out of the style too much.

So what did I learn?

All in all I’m happy with this piece. Mostly just more happy that it’s finally finished than anything else. If I was to do this again, there are a great many things I’d change, as there are quite a few things I don’t like about it. But the great thing about art is, you don’t have to go back and fix things that are wrong, just keep on truckin’. It’ll always be my first, so in that regard, it warrants a special place in my heart.

Currently it’s sitting in the art gallery where Jeff works, he was kind enough to shoot these photos for me, since I’ve been out of a good camera for a few years.

Where it ends up, only time will tell….